RtO: Taoist Confucianism and the Supremely Profound Principle

Y.S. Fing | E-MAIL | Roaming the Outfield Archive


Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “Taoist Confucianism and the Supremely Profound Principle”

Yang Hsuing (53 BC – 18 AD) rejected a question from a student or listener about the existence of immortals, “I shall have nothing to do with the question. Their existence or non-existence is not something to talk about. What should be asked are questions of loyalty and filial piety.” One staggers at the question though. It’s like a Monty Python skit.Confucius

I’m also reminded of Siddhartha, who put off metaphysical conjecture in favor of cultivating virtue. I think Yang Hsuing’s Taoist Confucian foundation is one of the core reasons that Buddhist philosophy was so readily understood and endorsed in China, even as it ceased to hold sway on the Indian sub-continent. To live a productive life without fear, and to end suffering, to find a system they could apply to their lives, was the noble object of the most sincere philosophers. Who doesn’t want that? Even you secular atheists.

I recommend baseball. One doesn’t ask the question in mid-season, where did we go wrong? The process is ongoing, with a continuing need to marshal forces for the attrition of a season, the various challenges in our lives, as they overlap and rise and fall. The General Manager is the most attentive to these business/organizational aspects of the game. He (so far, no women GMs) is bringing the moral structure to his ball club, in the same way as instructor Yang Hsuing did, by demanding practical applications of knowledge.

According to Wing Tsit-Chan, from his 1963 edition of A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, about ‘immortals’ Yang Hsuing believed that “to seek to live forever is contrary to the Taoist philosophy of indifference to life and death and to letting things take their own course.”

But more specifically for baseball, and the GM (this from Wing’s selections from Yang Hsuing’s Model Sayings and Classic of the Supremely Profound Principle – love that title!), “The Supremely Profound Principle deeply permeates all species of things but its physical form cannot be seen. It takes its nourishment from vacuity (hsu) and nothingness (wu) and derives its life from Nature.” Next essay will introduce Chrysippus’ pneuma, from Roman Stoicism, and we’ll want to compare the two ideas.



Yan Hsuing and Chrysippus lived around the same time in comparable social circumstances, when humanity, with its material level of technology, relied on guessing and mythology to answer questions of origin and physical function. They knew there is something that inflates us and makes us alive. They felt it is the air which we respire and the trappings of Nature, the environment that humans are in direct contact with, molded by it first, and subsequently molded, with advancing technologies, by ourselves.

Baseball stands as a bridge between the pre-industrial and the post-industrial. For pre-industrial, we love to play in the field when the weather is nice. We love to eat and share pastoral pleasures with our friends and family. We admire athletic skill and grace, not reckless brutality. But, for post-industrial, we play under lights, the teams travel on planes, there’s tv all day long…

Baseball can be the pneuma and the Supremely Profound Principle, the thing that enlivens and entertains and instructs, that carries on within and without us. It shows us that a person can be a hero best by being skilled and accomplished. It demonstrates the need for self-control in every facet of its play. It manifests that the swift do not always win the race. It recommends and rewards patience and the appreciation of discipline and pleasure.

Baseball gives us hope for the passing of winter, or the spur to move to Florida or Arizona. It affords a busy, harried, aging and generally unfriendly middle-aged man the opportunity to talk with any other baseball fan endlessly. It gives a teacher a fine microcosmic example of life in America today. It gives parents the chance to share their fascination and emotion with children, and grandchildren.

These are the moderate, everyday ideals we’ve seen from so many different thinkers and writers, the virtues that we can accept in ourselves and give and impress upon our children. “Therefore the Profound Principle is the perfection of utility.” In baseball, as in life, the best one can be is useful, that way one can be living both for oneself and for others. We are all part of a team in our social lives.

We can be the General Manager of our own team, and we can apply the Supremely Profound Principle to our conscious living, in an attempt to perfect our utility. Sometimes the GM needs to cut ties with respected but fading players, as Nationals GM Mike Rizzo did with Roger Bernadina and Kurt Suzuki. Sometimes the GM has to unload expensive players, as Theo Epstein has done with the Cubs. This is because the one thing we do know is that change is coming and we need to be thinking about the future. It all seems so clear to me.

And if you think I’m exaggerating about the GM bringing the moral structure to the team, think of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.


Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.